Minnesota at L.A. Lakers
Time: 9:30 PM (CT) TNT
Spread: MIN -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The L.A. Lakers continue to pile up the losses, but the team is looking more promising in many respects. Rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are both playing well, particularly Kuzma, the Utah product who ranks No. 1 on the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game.
Ball has improved his shooting and hit 45 percent from the floor last week while averaging 15 points per game over the stretch. Ball is at 9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists on the year, and the comparisons to Jason Kidd continue, for better or worse.
The Lakers will face the Minnesota Timberwolves at home where the Lakers are just 6-9 this season in the final game of an five-game slate on Christmas Day. The Wolves are 5-point favorites with the over/under set at 216 points according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
LAKERS NEWS & NOTES:
What rookie Lonzo Ball does do, is make the Lakers a better team when he is on the court. His vision and leadership has been apparent even as a rookie, and several other Lakers have shown vast improvement. Among them is former No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram, who is averaging 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 34 minutes a night.
Former Detroit Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been something of a disappointment but is still a steady 2-guard and a bit of an upgrade over what Lou Williams did (score and score, basically). The Lakers still just play horrible team defense, and adding Brook Lopez was no surety to improve on that end of the court. Opposing bigs seem to batter the Lakers exceptionally well, and the perimeter defense has been average at best.
Kentucky product Julius Randle has faded out of the picture, but his undersized stature was never at the root of the problem anyway. The Lakers just do not rotate well defensively and Lopez is not a rim protector, notwithstanding that he blocks 1.6 shots per game. Larry Nance Jr.’s effort can be infectious, and perhaps if all the Lakers displayed Nance’s defensive acumen this would be a plus .500 team, but it is difficult to win with the layup drills teams regularly perform against the Lakers’ lackluster defense.
Kuzma, the No. 27 overall pick is in the running for Rookie of the Year, and the No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball has not really been a disappointment. What it all means may take years to discern, but Randle could be on the move, and the Lakers doubtfully regret parting ways with D’Angelo Russell to obtain Brook Lopez—even if it did make an already poor defense even worse.
WOLVES NEWS & NOTES:
Minnesota, meanwhile, is building towards a meaningful future with two of the league’s brightest stars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, alongside established veteran All-Star Jimmy Butler. The Wolves occupy the No. 4 spot in the West and would have home court advantage if the playoffs began today.
Tom Thibodeau finally has the veteran leaders to lead his strong young core. Towns is averaging 20.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks pregame with a team-high PER of 23.0.
Butler has reduced his scoring load from a season ago with the pitiful Chicago Bulls, but is playing strong two-way basketball and still tallying 20 points per night.
Andrew Wiggins has made meaningful strides as a playmaker and defender, with the cost that he is averaging less points than last season, but the Wolves are a better more well-rounded team this season.
Credit some of that to unheralded additions Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson. Gibson has relegated the once-promising Gorgui Dieng to the bench, while Teague has seamlessly replaced Ricky Rubio at the point guard position. Jamal Crawford is not seeing a lot of minutes (17 per game), but is still a viable scorer off the bench and he can get hot at any time.
The Wolves have sufficient depth and leadership to finally cash in on its potential, and developing consistency on both ends of the court is next on Thibodeau’s checklist for his rising Wolves. The team is off to a great start for a young ball club and could be one of the most feared by the time the postseason finally arrives in 2018.